The Legacy of Apatoons

The Legacy of Apatoons

By Jim Korkis

Left to right:  Jim Korkis, Bob Miller, Fred Patten, Milton Gray (back), David Gerstein, Mark Mayerson.  Photo © W.R. Miller.

Once upon a time, there was no animation fandom.  To include an animation column in a major comic fanzine would have brought an outcry of protest from the readers.  Serious fans would have transferred their loyalties to other zines because cartoons were just for kids, the same prejudice that haunted comic book collectors in those days.  The first and early development of an animation fandom is probably directly related to efforts of one man and his fanzine which grew into a legend.

In the mid-Sixties, it was the Golden Age of Comic Book Fanzines.  Besides Don and Maggie Thompsons’ Comic Art, Bails-Thomas’ Alter Ego, and Spicer’s Fantasy Illustrated, there were countless ditto and mimeo fanzines extolling the virtues of superheroes.  Most of the scholarship centered on superheroes from the Forties although there was a growing faction passionately devoted to proclaiming that Marvel Comics were the only worthwhile comics in existence.

Funny animal comics were scorned and considered of little value by serious fans.  Animation was merely an interesting diversion and like Funny Animal comics, it was something to amuse small children, a philosophy that seemed to be held as well by the producers of this material.  For most fans, the world “animation” merely meant “Disney”.  Perhaps the more knowledgeable fans would have included Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera in that definition but precious little else since no information on the field existed in any easily accessible format.  And in those days before VCRs, many of the classics of animation were not available for viewing or on during the day when people were at work.

Into this land of ignorance strode Michael Barrier.

His only credential was an unabashed love for Funny Animal comics and Animation.  In October 1966, he published the first issue of Funnyworld for Capa-Alpha, the comic book apa started by Jerry Bails which appeared monthly and is currently still going after 320 some issues.  Apas are amateur press associations which date back to the last century, when proliferation of small letterpresses made it possible for anyone sufficiently motivated to create his own publication.  The first apas were simply trading clubs for home-produced little magazines.  In the 1930s, the invention of the mailing comment, wherein other members are addressed in print by name and response is given to what they write, set the stage for the modern apa.  Today’s apas physically resemble mosaics of ditto, mimeo, Xerox and professional printing, but in essence they’re mail order cocktail parties, filled with the same fun and misunderstandings associated with that type of social gathering.

Using the science-fiction apas as a guide, Dr. Jerry Bails created the first apa devoted to comic books.  The first issue of Funnyworld was fourteen mimeographed pages and the main feature was a listing of Warner Bros. comic books 1941-1966 (Remember, this was pre-Overstreet Price Guide).  Why was the zine christened Funnyworld?  In that first issue, Barrier explained, “There was a comic book called Funnyworld, by the way, although I know nothing more about it than it existed, probably briefly, and probably as one of the multitude of rotten funny animal comic books spawned in the early Forties by the success of Looney Tunes.  The more immediate source of the title is, of course, Richard Kyle’s late lamented Wonderworld.  Not that I’m going to try to emulate Kyle, except in the most general way; I just dug his zine.”

Barrier’s primary interest was on gathering and publishing information on this unexplored world of funny animals.  Richard Kyle was one of the first analytical writers about comic books, digging out new information and looking closely at themes.

Six months later (Funnyworld 5, April 1967) Barrier included in his fanzine his first animation information.  At that time, it was a natural extension from his funny animal comic book research since there were many comic books based on animated cartoon characters.  Little did Barrier suspect that animation articles would soon displace all talk of comic books.  A year later (Funnyworld 9) the fanzine had expanded to forty-six mimeographed pages and Barrier was selling the extra copies he printed for fifty cents.  (It was free “for published contributions of art, articles, reviews, letters, questions, answers, news, historical anecdotes and the like.”)

Funnyworld had outgrown its original purpose of being one man’s attempt to uncover information about some of his childhood memories; it had become a rallying center for animation fans who had no other source available for this material.  Barrier was developing a well-earned reputation as an animation scholar and expert on funny animal comics and animation.  The summer of 1970 saw the release of Funnyworld 12.  It was the first offset issue and sold for a dollar.  The main feature of the almost fifty-page issue was a still controversial interview with Bob Clampett.  More and more animation news, reviews and interviews began appearing in the pages of Funnyworld.  The increased press run and the new ability to include photographs expanded the magazine’s reputation.  The magazine continued to be published sporadically until issue 16 (Winter 1974-75) which was intended as the final issue.  The magazine lost money because it was published infrequently and it was published infrequently because Barrier lacked the necessary financial resources to publish more often.  Barrier decided the only way to remedy the situation was to close up shop and devote his time to writing a book on the history of animation and to concentrate on his regular job.

Funnyworld was revived several years later when the magazine was sold to Mark Lilien (after attempts to have others including Bill Blackbeard resume publication of it).  Supposedly Lilien was to take over the business end of production, distribution, advertisements, etc. while the editorial control would remain with Barrier.  However, after six issues, Barrier resigned because of strong disagreements with the way the magazine was being handled.  That resignation officially sounded the death knell for the magazine.

One of the major contributions Barrier made to animation fandom was to stop publishing FunnyworldFunnyworld was the unquestioned center for animation scholarship and once it disappeared, it forced the development of other magazines to fill the void.

During this period, Mindrot began.  Like Funnyworld, it was designed as an apa zine for Vootie, the funny animal cartoonists’ apa.  David Mruz, editor and publisher, remembered his school teachers warning him not to read comic books or watch cartoons because they would “rot” his mind, so Mruz created a fanzine for others with similarly rotted minds.  The first issue appeared April 1976 and was only two pages long but by the end of the year it had grown to eight pages of offset type devoted to animation and sold to the general public for fifty cents.  A favorable plug for Mindrot in Mark Mayerson’s short-lived animation column for Film Collector’s World attracted the interest of many animation fans looking for a place to share animation information.

This influx of interest encourage Mruz in June 1977 to further expand his fanzine and to develop its familiar format of forty pages in the form of a booklet.  Like Funnyworld, the magazine featured lengthy interviews with animators and historic research.  Unlike Funnyworld, the magazine featured detailed episode listings of animated series and several regular columns by animation historians.  Some potential readers were confused by the title of the magazine so Mruz changed the name to Animania (issue 20, Feb. 1981) and the name change increased sales and recognition (although fans still refer to it as Mindrot when talking).  However, Mruz needed to devote more time to his business and his family and the final issue of Animania was 27 (Dec. 1983).  Mruz made no farewell announcement and over the years has thought about reviving the title.

Animania inspired other animation fanzines in a similar format including Reg Hartt’s Animazine and Mike Ventrella’s Animato! Since that time Animato!, in particular under the editorship of Harry McCracken, has grown into a respected and eagerly-anticipated animation magazine filled with many of the elements that made both Funnyworld and Animania vital sources for animation fans.

One of the most unique creations inspired by Funnyworld and Animania was APATOONS.  On May 12, 1981, Don Markstein and GiGi Dane sent out a one-page orange flyer to a select group of fans.  The flyer announced the formation of an apa for “animation buffs”.  Markstein wrote, “There’s a potential for an animation fandom lurking among publishing fans.  We don’t know how many people there are in it, but we do know Funnyworld and Mindrot aren’t being published in a vacuum.  That potential has probably always been there, but lately, with more and more lifelong cartoon buffs becoming video collectors, it’s been exploding.  Just as comics fandom grew out of science fiction fandom to create its own fan movement 20 years ago, we expect cartoon fandom to come into its own very soon now.  That’s the hifalutin’ reason.  What actually happened is that as we were cataloguing the latest tape from our mutual cartoon collection, GiGi asked Don if there was an apa where they talked mostly about cartoons.  Of course there wasn’t – but there is now.”

Markstein further stated that “we’re hoping for a fairly small group, say about 20-25 members, and definitely no more than 30.  Organization will be loose:  There will be a roster, a mailing schedule, a copy requirement, a person in charge, and a general expectation (but not an ironclad rule) that those participating will mostly stick to the subject.”

The first issue of APATOONS appeared July 1981 and that first issue had only seven members:  Jim Korkis, Alan Hutchinson, Don Markstein, Meera Dane (GiGi’s daughter), GiGi Dane, Marcus Wielage and Rick Norwood.  There were sixty pages in that first mailing, although 26 of those were supplied by Jim Korkis who in a rift of unbridled enthusiasm sent in two separate contributions.  In addition, Markstein enclosed a 22-page songbook containing the lyrics to over 40 cartoon “ditties” which he had originally done up for the 100th mailing of SFPA, another apa he was a member of at the time.

That first mailing included such items as a Saturday Morning Cartoon Index (1964-1974), samples of Chuck Jones’s syndicated comic strip and a signed self-portrait of Disney animator Ward Kimball.  The apa grew rapidly as word of its existence spread from friend to friend.

By issue three, Mark Evanier had designed the official logo for the apa.  Evanier, well-known for his scripting of numerous animated shows among many other credits, contributed his thoughts through Wielage’s apazine.  However, over the years, the roster has included Mike Barrier (editor of Funnyworld), Dave Mruz (editor of Animania), Mike Ventrella and Harry McCracken (of Animato! fame), Jerry Beck (co-author of the best book on Warner cartoons) and his co-writer Will Friedwald, Leonard Maltin, Tim Fay, Mark Mayerson, Mark Kausler, John Cawley, Fred Patten, Jim Korkis, Dave Bennett, Bob Miller, Nancy Beiman, Milton Gray, Amid Amidi, David Bastian, Eric Costello, Will Ryan, Keith Scott, Dan Haskett and Van Partible just to mention a few of the names who have contributed so much to animation scholarship during the last two decades.

APATOONS held a special animation party at the 1983 San Diego Con where rare animation was screened.  In 1985, APATOONS and Get Animated! jointly hosted another party of animation rarities.

Jerry Beck took over as Fearless Leader in September 1984 with issue number 18 after he successfully edited the first APATOONS San Diego Sampler that was distributed in the summer of 1984.  Under Beck’s leadership a more professional look and attitude established itself.  Some issues would include actual animation cels or strips of animation film. One issue had a 3-D cover while another showcased an original limited edition cel of famous animation birds.  APATOONS became the source for preliminary drafts of articles that would later appear in a variety of magazines including Animato! and Animation magazine.

By issues number thirty (September 1986), famed animator Dave Bennett created an official cartoon mascot for the apa, the Rooster.  The Rooster appeared throughout the mailing, but his special place of honor was at the beginning of The Clipping File, a collection of animated related newspaper and magazine articles from around the United States, which appears every issue.

In 1990, with issue number fifty-five, animation writer Bob Miller took over the Fearless Leader position from Jerry Beck and set about revamping and expanding the apa.  Under his direction, the celebration of APATOONS’ tenth anniversary in July 1991 was marked by the creation of a special San Diego Sampler to coincide with the regular mailing.  Copies of the issue were given to the regular roster of members as well as being offered for sale through the Comics Buyer’s Guide and the Get Animated! table at the San Diego Convention which ironically was being held in July after many years of always being held the first week in August.

Over the years several animation magazines like Animated Life, Animation Planet, Toon, etc. have come and gone but APATOONS continues as the main forum for animation discussion in a hard copy format.

As the interest in animation continues to grow, so too will the future issues of APATOONS as it carries on the tradition of animation scholarship and fellowship established by Mike Barrier twenty-five years ago when the first issue of Funnyworld was published.  This is the legacy of APATOONS.